Lawmakers of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) submitted their resignations from the National Assembly yesterday, as the party continues to lead a sit-in in the capital against Nawaz Sharif's government.
However, the party yesterday said it will resume talks with government aimed at ending tense protests that, according to the ruling party, threatens the country's fragile democracy.
Former cricketer Khan and populist cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri have led thousands of supporters demonstrating outside parliament this week calling for Sharif to go.
Khan insists the May 2013 general election, which swept Sharif to power in a landslide, was rigged, though observers rated it free and credible.
PTI leaders Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Arif Alvi and Shireen Mazari submitted the resignations of all 34 MNAs to the NA speaker's office, including that of Chairman Imran Khan, Dawn reported.
The party had earlier decided to resign from all assemblies except the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly, a province where it forms the government.
“We had already given our resignations to our chairman, and now we have also completed the formal procedure of submitting them to the National Assembly speaker,” said PTI leader Murad Saeed shortly after the resignations had been submitted.
PTI is the third largest party in the Pakistan National Assembly.
Speaking to DawnNews, former Secretary Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) Kanwar Dilshad said that as per rules, the lawmakers' assembly membership ceases the moment they submit their resignations.
“Our future course of action is clear: we demand free and fair elections in Pakistan, an independent election commission, accountability of those involved in electoral rigging, and the resignation of the prime minister,” said Saeed.
The standoff has raised fears of possible military intervention -- the country has seen three coups since its creation in 1947 -- though analysts say the army is more likely to use the crisis to assert influence behind the scenes than stage an outright power grab.
Talks to resolve the impasse that began on Wednesday stalled almost immediately, with Khan sticking to his hardline stance that Sharif must go before he would negotiate.
But his party yesterday said dialogue was restarting through contact with the governor of Punjab, Pakistan's most populous province.
"We are resuming talks with the government," PTI vice-chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi told AFP.
Khan's and Qadri's protest movements are not formally allied and have different goals, beyond toppling the government. But their combined pressure -- and numbers -- have given extra heft to the rallies.
If one group were to reach a settlement with the government and withdraw, the other's position would be significantly weakened.
Both movements have failed to mobilise mass support beyond their core followers and opposition parties have shunned Khan's call to unseat the government and begin a campaign of civil disobedience.
Although a full-blown coup d'etat looks unlikely -- such a move could jeopardise billions of dollars in foreign assistance and trade deals -- analysts say the crisis will leave Sharif weakened.
"The protests rocking Islamabad threaten to upend the constitutional order, set back rule of law and open the possibility of a soft coup, with the military ruling through the backdoor," the International Crisis Group wrote.
Sharif has a history of testy relations with the military -- his second term as prime minister ended abruptly in 1999 when then-army chief Pervez Musharraf seized power in a coup.
His government is thought to have angered the military by pursuing criminal cases against Musharraf, including treason charges. The PM has also pursued better relations with arch-rivals India, whose perceived military threat is an important justification for the Pakistani army's large budget allocation.